The next panel I went to by myself. Sarah and Alison attended a first pages panel, which I'm hoping they post about. (hint, hint!) I went to Land Ho! Creating New Worlds in Any Genre. I think a lot of people expected this one to be about fantasy worlds, but the authors truly represented a wide range.
Stacy Nyikos writes fantasy, and had good advice. She suggested setting "rules" before you get too far on the writing. Then stick to them. You can create rules for a fantasy world, or work within accepted ones. She gave the example of Chinese dragons from her book Dragon Wishes. When researching dragons, she found out that dragons from European mythology have wings, but in Chinese lore, they do not. She originally thought her characters would eat rice, because the book was set in China. Research taught her that in the northern parts of the country, people didn't eat rice during the time period of her book. They ate millet. She told us she uses her beta readers to catch problems in her later drafts, and will try to call someone with direct knowledge of what she is writing.
PJ Hoover combines fantasy in her stories with real world settings. She uses Cub Scout field trips as an excuse to learn about cool places she can use in her books. She keeps a lookout for unusual details that will make a scene real for the reader. She always carries a camera, a notebook (Smurfette!), and an open mind.
Keri Mikulski writes about the world of sports. She chose to write about sporty girls after not finding many books with girl characters playing sports. She likes sports fiction to be fast paced, with lots of action. Although she is not creating a world from her imagination, she faces the challenges of accurately portraying a culture that does exist, and is subtly different in different sports and different regions. She said it's important to at least try playing a sport if you're writing about it. Talk to experts and learn as much as you can. Sports readers are quick to spot cliches, myths, and poseurs.
Suzanne Morgan Williams has mainly written nonfiction, so she's an ace at researching places. She likes to begin with setting. A person's culture and who they are springs from where they come from. She agrees that if you're writing about a place you haven't been, or haven't spent a lot of time visiting, you must get a couple of locals to vette your descriptions for accuracy. Suzy prefers to visit any places she writes about, because just using books or Google won't give her the sense of how it feels to be someplace. A physical landscape and an emotional one both need to be present in a story. A good writer knows both and how they interact with one another. She wants her toughest readers to believe they are there in the story with her. She emphasized asking the questions that will make your story right.
The last panel I attended was Hot Young Adult and Teen Fiction. Charlottesville's own Anne Marie Pace moderated a panel of authors including David Macinnis Gill, Jennifer Hubbard, Amy Brecount White, and Paula Chase Hyman.
The authors began by defining "young adult." This is a question that I've seen asked a lot, and it doesn't have a clear answer, but Paula said pretty much what I'd have said. YA is designed for a specific age range, usually 12-17, but fluctuates a bit on either side of that. The panel discussed how YA is often perceived as a new genre, but it isn't really. They mentioned books such as The Catcher in the Rye and The Outsiders and Judy Blume's work that have been around a long time. In any time period, YA captures the essence of being a teenager and all the intensity of first loves and first fights with good friends. When asked which contemporary YA fiction would still be read thirty years from now, the authors mentioned Markus Zusak, Rebecca Stead, Christopher Paul Curtis, Sara Zarr, and Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, which has already stood the test of time.
Similar to other panels, these authors stressed the importance of writing about something personal to you. They said a writer must tell the truth in an elegant way, find an underlying truth to a story. Not that the story has to be true in the literal sense, but it has to ring true for the reader.
They wrapped up the session by discussing publicizing books. Many authors are doing blog tours now. (If you're one of them and want to include us on your blog tour, let us know!) Successful authors push the envelope and find ways to differentiate themselves. Promoting books is time consuming, but the internet can allow authors to do it on their own terms, without so much time and expense.